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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Missing Family Trees

Most Indians don't track their family tree. I'm not sure why. I remember my parents talking of some pandits who would track family trees - they would come to my grandparents house once every decade or so, stay at the house as guests, and update the family tree. But they don't anymore. Not sure why. And I'm not sure where the records are kept.

I have being interested in building my own family tree. It's quite common in west - lot of them can trace back families to 1600s or some 1300s. Some English family that haven't moved from their villages in England can go even earlier. The blacks in US, who were brought in as slaves, abruptly cut off from their roots in various nations and tribes, have been trying to track their own roots - especially the famous ones. In someways it's easier because slave owners used to keep records of people they bought and sold. Also in the west, local churches keeps track of new birth and latest deaths. So it becomes easier to track family tree in these places. While I'm sure many records are probably destroyed or spoiled, there are probably enough tracks to construct a tree going back at least 10 or 15 generations. There many companies in the west that in the family tree industry. There are family gathering of known members of a family tree.

Unfortunately, because of the nomadic nature of family tree pandits in India, I doubt most know their own family tree much beyond their own great grand parents. I am sure some maharajs, Mughals, and nawabs family trees are officially studied and fairly know, may be studied even by our own dumb ASI.

In any case, using Kalidasa's Raghuvamsam, Tarun Vijay writes about the patriarchal family tree of Sri Rama. I knew a few names and surely didnot know the tree.

When Kalidas wrote Raghuvamsam, he described the entire dynasty beginning from Brahma. Lord Brahma created 10 prajapatis -- one of whom was Marichi. Kashyapa is the son of Marichi and Kala. Kashyapa is regarded as the father of humanity. Vivasvan or Surya is the son of Kashyapa and Aditi. Manu or Vaivaswatha Manu is the son of Vivasvan. He is regarded as the first ruler belonging to the Ikshvaku dynasty. Ikshvaku is the son of Manu and established his kingdom in Ayodhya. Kukshi is the son of Ikshavaku. Vikukshi is the son of Kukshi. Bana is the son of Vikukshi. Anaranya is the son of Bana. Prithu is the son of Anaranya. Trisanku is the son of Prithu. Dhundhumara is the son of Trisanku. Yuvanaswa is the son of Dhundhumara. Mandhata is the son of Yuvanaswa. Susandhi is the son of Mandhata. Daivasandhi and Presenjit are the sons of Susandhi. Bharatha is the son of Presenjit. Asita is the son of Bharatha. Sagara is the son of Asitha. Asamanja is the son of Sagara. Amsumantha (Ansuman) is the son of Asamanja. Dileepa is the son of Amsumantha. Bhagiratha is the son of Dileepa. Kakustha is the son of Bhagiratha. Raghu is the son of Kakushta.

The clan of Raghuvamsha started with Raghu. Pravardha is the son of Raghu. Sankhana is the son of Pravardha. Sudarsana is the son of Sankhana. Agnivarna is the son of Sudarsana. Seeghraga is the son of Agnivarna. Maru is the son of Seeghraga. Prasusruka is the son of Maru. Ambarisha is the son of Prasusruka. Nahusha is the son of Ambarisha. Yayathi is the son of Nahusha. Nabhaga is the son of Yayathi. Aja is the son of Nabhaga. Dasaratha is the son of Aja. Rama, Lakshmana, Bharatha and Shatrughana are the sons of Dasaratha. Lava and Kusha are the sons of Rama. [Denying Ram is denying India - Rediff]

I think tracing family tree is very interesting and extremely fun. While I may not be able to do what Kalidasa did, I hope I can put together a rudimentary paternal and maternal family tree and track down those pandits who used visit my grandparents house and see if I can salvage any information.


etlamatey said...

I agree tracking a family tree can be fun and interesting. But your assessment that this activity is popular in the west and not so in India is hard to swallow. 'West' is of course a rather coarse definition for the sake of this discussion. I have asked dozens of my American friends about their roots and have never got an response going back more than 2 generations. Most seem to know they have, say, Irish or German roots but none seem to know where in that country they hailed from. Like you point out, this practice is more likely to be more popular in long-settled Europe.

Also the practice among blacks to track their ancestry isn't as widespread or egalitarian as you make it out to be. There are a handful of institutions and academic programs with a focus on black genealogy, and of course interested individuals (with resources), who give the impression that this activity is popular.

You seem to lay too much emphasis on the nomadic pundits of Kashi and none on the Indian equivalent of the church - the samaj/community (the sociological, not the religious equivalent) organized around caste. The Chittpavan-Bharadwaj samaj that my family belongs to has a trust that periodically publishes genealogical registers. My ancestral line goes back 13 generations back in that book. I can say the same about some of my friends who belong to other castes in western India, where genealogy is an important part of the communal consciousness. Maybe things are different in south India.

The main difference between genealogy as followed in the west and as followed in India is that, in the west, it is institutionalized in public or semi-public institutions where the focus is on dissemination of information (to interested individuals as well as journalists from, say, Nat. Geographic who will make a documentary on genealogy and give Indians who watch the impression that it is popular in the west). On the other hand, genealogy in India is mostly vested in caste/community based institutions where transparency and public access is not really an important aspect.

Chandra said...

etlamatey, I agree with much of what you say.

Majority of blacks in US are barely getting into middle class, so I don't think many would be interested in study their family tree (beyound famous people like Oprah and Heny Gates). Lot of Americans (or Europeans, for the matter) may not like their families, or history for that matter, so may not care about their family tree, but there is probably one or two people in their extended family (if one can call it that) - those with the same last name, that probably charted their family tree. And if and when a disinterested person ever what to find out about their family tree, I think they can do so easily. I'm making a gross generalization, but I think it is valid one. Also because of the way birth and death is, or was, tracked for centuries, it's easier, relatively speaking, to build a family tree - I think, anyway.

With regards to Bharatiya families, the information you give is fascinating. Because social life is (or at least used to be) organized around castes or subcastes, your example is surely optimal. I'm sure there are many families in south India that track their family tree similar to yours. But I think it would have been limited to the educated groups and groups that were in some kind of power - such as rajas or zamindars or mantris or tahasildar types. I really doubt that vast majority of people who were not educated (I don't mean in the current sense) or had little power in the system - be it in a kingdom or a zamindari, have little recourse to any set up I talked about in the post or the one your family uses. If these people want to create a family tree I don't think they have much recourse when compared to a similar family - ie uneducated and not being part of the system - in Europe or in US, because of the way family events were tracked (or not).

I agree with your comment about the current genealogy transparency. It's an individual issue.

It's really wonderful to know your family history goes back 13 generation - that's 3 to 4 centuries!